UPDATE 6-Obama chips away at Cuba embargo, discusses efforts with Raul Castro
(Adds Obama-Castro phone call, Sen. Flake comment)
By Matt Spetalnick, Patricia Zengerle and Daniel Trotta
WASHINGTON/HAVANA, Sept 18 (Reuters) - The United States announced new rules on Friday to further ease trade, travel and investment restrictions with Cuba, but Cuban President Raul Castro told President Barack Obama that Washington should go even further and lift its economic embargo on the Communist-ruled island.
The rare phone call between the two leaders followed the unveiling of changes that will allow certain U.S. companies to establish offices in Cuba, expand banking and Internet activities and eliminate limits on the amount of money that can be taken there, U.S. officials said.
Despite Castro's appeal, the broader 53-year-old U.S. embargo will remain in place, and only Congress can remove it - something majority Republicans are considered highly unlikely to do anytime soon.
Aides to Obama touted the latest steps, which he implemented with his executive powers in defiance of critics in Congress, as a way to boost business and promote economic and political reform in Cuba. They also mark Obama's continuing effort to chip away at the embargo since a thaw.
Critics of Obama's detente slammed the move as another reward to Cuba with no corresponding concessions from Havana, especially on the human rights front.
The changes, while significant, stop short of allowing across-the-board investment by U.S. companies or general U.S. tourism, activities banned under the embargo itself.
They come as Washington and Havana inch toward normal relations after more than half a century of hostility that followed Cuba's 1959 revolution. The two countries restored diplomatic ties and reopened embassies earlier this summer. Continuación...